Norman Finkelstein, the controversial DePaul University professor who says Israel capitalizes from the Holocaust, accused the country of abusing human rights and defended former President Jimmy Carter's recent book Tuesday in Rapaporte Treasure Hall.
Finkelstein was the second Middle East speaker to appear at the University in two days, following the conservative Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes last Monday on the "Islamization of Europe."
Both speakers have been the subject of much debate over the nature of campus dialogue about the Middle East, an issue that took center stage this semester after Carter's high-profile visit to campus in January. The debate has led both the administration and the Student Union to form committees and issue requests in an attempt to manage the invitations of high-profile speakers.
Finkelstein's speech, which drew over 100 people from the Brandeis community and the surrounding area, was especially controversial during the last few months, both because of Finkelstein's views and because of the confusion surrounding what committee would approve the event and which clubs would sponsor it. The event was eventually sponsored by the Arab Culture Club and the World Can't Wait Club.
A few dozen protesters expressed their displeasure over Finkelstein's appearance but dissipated before he began his speech.
Finkelstein began by saying that "the vast preponderance swirling around the Israel-Palestine conflict is contrived" in order to deflect criticism from Israel's human-rights abuses.
Some of Finkelstein's opinions were: that Israel must return to its pre-1967 borders and relinquish its settlements in Gaza and the West Bank; that Israel, with a much stronger military, has more responsibility than the Palestinian Hamas party to stop the conflict; and that by claiming the Jews suffered uniquely during the Holocaust, one legitimizes the idea that Israel should not be held to the same standards as other countries regarding human-rights issues.
Finkelstein also criticized University President Jehuda Reinharz for what he viewed as Reinharz's making Carter's visit conditional on his debating Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz.
"Of all the possible people, a distinguished faculty, with so many programs the only person he can think to debate Jimmy Carter is Alan Dershowitz?" asked Finkelstein. "It shows … what complete and utter contempt [Reinharz] has" for his field and for professors at Brandeis.
As Finkelstein ended his speech, he said, "If you learn how to wield the weapons of truth and justice I remain convinced that we can win, that we can achieve a just and lasting peace for Israel and Palestine."
The question-and-answer session, which followed Finkelstein's speech, began with Seva Brodsky from Somerville asked, "Do you hate your parents? How long have you hated Israel?"
When asked about Hamas' duty to recognize Israel's legitimacy, Finkelstein responded: "Do you really expect that Palestinians would acknowledge the legitimacy of their ethnic cleansing? That doesn't make sense to me."
Harvard research fellow Sarah Roy, who introduced Finkelstein, began the event by saying, "Dissent is often seen as a form of betrayal," and that Finkelstein provides "a different Jewish voice" regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict.
After the event, some students felt unsatisfied with Finkelstein's speech. "It was an interesting tactic to speak for three hours and divert every question," said Rachel Lewis '09. She added, however, that it is important to listen to all opinions, even those with which one might disagree.
Others disagreed with Lewis, however. "The way he carried himself added to the dignity of his points and what was really important to the discourse," Alex Ball '09 said.
He added that it seemed many students came in with their own preconceptions about Finkelstein's views. "When he was making a point, people were speaking with their neighbors about it," and people were "looking to find errors," he said.
Kevin Montgomery '07, who advised the organizers of the event, said it was important that Finkelstein come and speak. He added that these types of speeches "will define Brandeis and the future" and will give a "broader spectrum of views."
Assistant Dean of Student Life Jamele Adams said "the event was a demonstration of the varying degrees of opinion" regarding Israel.
"I think public debate at a university is great. I would have liked for there to be more time to have debate … I don't know if students were satisfied at the answers that they got," he said.
-Shana D. Lebowitz contributed reporting.